Inside the Pac-12: June 17

17 Jun

By Brantley Watson
National Hoops Report

The National Hoops Report checks in on two of the most storied programs in the Pac-12 as they prep for the summer. Brantley Watson will be providing his insight to the league every week on the National Hoops Report.

Restocking the Arizona shelves

Clearly, no one in the Pac-12 took a bigger hit to their roster than the Wildcats, who lost last year’s Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams to the NBA Draft, where he is projected to go in the top two.

But regardless, this is still an exciting time for the Wildcats, as coach Sean Miller landed a top 10 recruiting class.

Another big story during the offseason was the departure of point guard MoMo Jones, but freshman recruit Josiah Turner is thought to fill that void and more.

Turner, according to ESPN, is the 14th best recruit of 2011 and third best at the point guard position. But more importantly than Turner’s ranking is the new bucking trend emerging in college and professional basketball, which is the idea of point guard driven teams. We’ve seen the impact that guys like Derrick Rose and John Wall have had on their college programs and in the NBA, and it’s also predicted that Duke PG Kyrie Irving will go first in the upcoming NBA Draft.

In short, no position in the college or professional game is currently more important than that of the point guard, which makes Miller’s landing of Turner even that more vital.

Turner clocked in around 6’2” and has the flavor of an east coast PG on the west coast circuit. He is essentially pass-first, but as is the trend with the other PG’s mentioned, has the ability to get to the rim at will. His size for a point guard also him to see over the defense and pass with fluidity mixed with a little bit of flash, not to mention his yo-yo-like handle.

Hopefully, issues of academic ineligibility won’t hinder the freshman from stepping on the floor for the Wildcats next season, as his high school, Quality Education Academy, is under some serious scrutiny.

In addition to Turner, Miller landed possibly the most freakish athlete of the 2011 class in Findlay Prep’s Nick Johnson.

Johnson has the “wow” athleticism that we saw from Derrick Williams last year, but from the guard position. A slightly awkward shooting form won’t take away from the fact that Johnson will throw down enough highlight reel dunks this season to become a Wildcats fan favorite.

Bruins beefy up front in 2011-2012

The Bruins were thought to be favorites to win the conference next year, as they finished second in 2010 and were thought to have a wealth of talent returning for next season.

But with two surprise exits by underclassmen, the Bruins may not be the surefire top finishers they were thought to be.

Sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt and junior guard Malcolm Lee both bolted for the NBA after the season, and both hired agents, nixing any chance of returning to Ben Howland’s squad next fall. Many scouts and college pundits were perplexed by Honeycutt’s and Lee’s decision to leave UCLA, especially with the success the Bruins had towards the end of the season.

Many, including myself, thought that with next year’s projected roster, Honeycutt and Lee included, UCLA could make a deep tournament run.

Still, the silver-lining for UCLA comes in the form of inside play. Sophomore-to-be Josh Smith is one of the largest humans on earth, and Smith showed glimpses of dominance his freshman season. His only drawback was conditioning, which I have to think is at the top of his and Howland’s “To-Do List” this entire summer.

A motivated and fit Smith has to be a scary notion for other Pac-12 opponents. When the 6’10” 300-pounder was able to stay out of foul trouble, he effectively did his part in pounding opposing defenses, and I have to think Smith will be the lynchpin of the offense next season.

Reeves Nelson, possibly the Pac-12’s scariest looking player, is set to have a big season in 2011 as well, as he will be remembered for holding Derrick Williams to five points in the second half of UCLA’s blowout win over Arizona at Pauley Pavilion last season.

Nelson led the Bruins in points (13.9) and rebounds (9.1) last season, and more than likely, in order to boost his draft stock, will be looking to improve on those numbers next season. And with Honeycutt and Lee out of the way, Nelson will probably see even more scoring opportunities than he did last season.

Add David and Travis Wear, a couple of 6’10” transfers from North Carolina, into the mix, and the Bruins will look to dominate the paint next season.

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